Judge won’t bar evidence of other crimes allegedly committed by defendant in death-penalty case

Chicago Tribune on June 15, 2012 released the following:

“Prosecutors plan to connect man charged with killing Navy officer to rape in Virginia, murders in Lake County

By Dan Hinkel

A federal judge has denied defense lawyers’ efforts to bar potentially damaging evidence at the sentencing phase of the death penalty case against Jorge Torrez, the former Lake County man charged last month with murdering two young girls in Zion in 2005.

Federal prosecutors plan to seek Torrez’s execution if he is convicted of killing 20-year-old Navy petty officer Amanda Snell in 2009 on the Virginia military base where they both lived. To aid that push, prosecutors plan to offer evidence that Torrez raped a woman in Virginia in 2010 and killed Laura Hobbs, 8, and Krystal Tobias, 9, seven years ago in Illinois.

Jerry Hobbs, Laura’s father, had confessed to the killings and spent five years in jail before DNA pointed to Torrez, according to court records. Hobbs was freed in August 2010, but nearly two more years passed before Lake County prosecutors tacitly acknowledged his confession was false when they charged Torrez with the crime last month.

Torrez, 23, is serving five life sentences for a series of attacks on women in Virginia, including the rape.

In the federal case, Torrez’s lawyers had asked the judge to bar prosecutors from using his convictions in those attacks as “aggravating factors” at sentencing, arguing that the attacks happened after the petty officer’s murder. His lawyers also asked the judge to strike other factors proposed by prosecutors, which range from the charge that he killed the Zion girls to contentions that he viewed violent pornography and tied up a female friend with a dog leash.

U.S. Judge Liam O’Grady put off ruling conclusively on whether he will allow the Zion killings and other alleged acts to be used as factors until after a hearing in December, though he denied the defense lawyers’ call to have the factors immediately stricken.

The judge denied Torrez’s lawyers’ attempt to block prosecutors from using Torrez’s convictions in the attacks in Virginia as factors at sentencing. O’Grady cited case law in ruling that prosecutors seeking to introduce aggravating factors can use crimes committed after the alleged crime that is the basis for the death penalty case.

Those aggravating factors are central to death penalty cases because of case law dictating that murder, absent circumstances adding to the horrific nature of the crime, does not justify execution, said David Bruck, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and an expert on the death penalty.

Even if a defendant has not been convicted of a crime — as Torrez has not been convicted of the Zion murders — prosecutors often can still introduce evidence of the alleged criminal act during the sentencing phase, Bruck said.

Federal authorities have only rarely executed defendants. In the past 35 years, federal courts have executed three men, one of whom was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Lake County authorities have said they plan to try Torrez in the Zion killings, though a spokesman for federal prosecutors said the death penalty trial will go forward first.

A lawyer for Torrez declined to comment.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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